September passenger count at McCarran rises 1.2 percent

Buoyed by busier U.S. airlines, the 3.47 million passengers using McCarran International Airport in September marked a 1.2 percent gain compared to a year ago.

Although not a huge number, the highlight in the monthly report released on Thursday marked an improvement from the recent past. The number of people flying in or out of Las Vegas had dropped in nine of the previous 12 months, although only once by more than 2 percent.

For the year to date, the 31.5 million people who arrived at or left from McCarran was a scant 0.1 percent better than 2012. Not surprisingly, visitor totals for Las Vegas have stagnated this year, along with hotel room rates and occupancy.

Southwest Airlines, the market leader by a wide margin, posted a 4 percent increase after a couple of down months. Although Southwest has trimmed its schedule by a handful of flights, the planes that do come here have more seats than a year ago. While that has been true for several months, the airline did a better job of filling its planes in September.

No. 2 Delta surged 13.7 percent, although that involved more of a redistribution than actual growth, as it drastically cut the number of flights using regional jets operated by Skywest for Delta in favor of the mainline fleet. While the number of weekly flights went down by a dozen, the number of seats went up by 3,800.

With Delta and Skywest combined, the passenger count rose only 2.7 percent.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air continued in its holding pattern after several years of strong growth that made it McCarran’s fifth-largest carrier, down 1 percent for September and the year to date.

In fact, an expanded schedule boosted discounter Spirit to the No. 5 spot for September after boosting its passenger count by 20.1 percent, the best performance among the domestic carriers. The Clark County Department of Aviation, which operates McCarran, ranks the top five airlines by year-to-date passenger totals, where Allegiant is still ahead of Spirit.

Overall domestic traffic rose 1.2 percent.

On the international side, a special focus for visitor industry leaders, the gain came to only 2.4 percent, a slowdown from the recent past. As has been the case for some time, the foreign carriers turned in a mixed bag.

Some, including British Airways, Panama’s Copa, Arkefly of the Netherlands and Korean Airlines, all boosted their passenger totals by more than 20 percent due to a combination of more flights and using larger planes.

Canada’s WestJet, the far-and-away leader with one third of the international traffic at McCarran, went up 3.6 percent. By maintaining this pace, it would become by a slim margin the first international carrier to fly more than 1 million people through McCarran.

Rival Air Canada grew up 7 percent.

But for some countries, what went up also went down. The arrival of Mexico’s Interjet in the past year has coincided with the 8.7 percent drop recorded by Volaris. Similarly, Virgin Atlantic, the first international airline to come to Las Vegas more than a decade ago, was down 1.8 percent as British Airways grew.

The flights currently loaded into reservation systems show an average 2.3 percent more seats per month through January. The domestic carrier will expand at roughly that pace, with international running slightly ahead.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or at 702-387-5290.

The five largest airlines at McCarran International Airport by passenger count:
AirlineSept. 2013
Percent change
from Sept. 2012
Percent change
from 2012
Total Domestic3,128,0001.228,572,000-0.4
Total International260,0002.42,225,0004.6
Total Airport3,473,0001.231,510,0000.1
Source: Clark County Dept. of Aviation